Way back in the 2020 NHL Draft, the Calgary Flames selected forward Ryan Francis in the fifth round. Since then, Francis has continued to be one of the more offensively productive players in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
So why haven’t the Flames signed him to an entry-level deal yet?
There are a bunch of factors that weigh into the Flames’ decision to sign (or not) Francis, so let’s dive right in…

They’re up against the contract limit

Under the CBA, teams are limited to 50 active NHL contracts at any given time. The exception for player contracts is ones that fall under what’s called the “entry-level slide.” Essentially, if a player is (a) a teenager and (b) is going to be in junior all season, their contract doesn’t count against the contract limit.
Right now, the Flames have 48 players under contract for 2021-22. But two of those players, Connor Zary and Jeremie Poirier, have deals that potentially slide. Because of when Zary signed, his deal slides in 2021-22 unless he plays 10 NHL games. Poirier is 19 and has already been sent back to junior, so barring a roster emergency situation he can’t be called up until his team’s season is over.
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The wrinkle here is how deals are counted under the limit. Basically, a contract that could count against the limit is counted against the 50-contract cap until it actually does slide. As in: Zary contract will count against the 50 until it’s impossible for him to play in 10 NHL games this season. (Since Poirier is back in junior already and he can’t easily be recalled under the NHL/CHL agreement, his deal doesn’t count against the 50.)
So the Flames probably don’t want to sign Francis because it would tie their hands a bit in terms of adding players via trade, waivers, or college free agency later on this season.

His deal runs wherever he plays

Related to the previous note about the entry-level slide: if Francis signs right now, he wouldn’t get a slide year. In other words, his contract would burn a year this season regardless of where he plays – as in, he loses a pro year if he plays in junior. Considering the Flames always try to maintain contractual flexibility, that would be a negative for them.
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If he signs after March 1, his deal won’t start until 2022-23.

There’s no clear spot for him in the AHL

Right now, Francis is in Stockton’s camp trying out for the AHL team on a pro try-out deal. But here’s a brief list of forwards that will (or could) begin the 2021-22 season on Stockton’s roster:
  • At least one of Byron Froese and Glenn Gawdin
  • Connor Zary
  • Emilio Pettersen
  • Jakob Pelletier
  • Walker Duehr
  • Adam Ruzicka
  • Martin Pospisil
  • Matthew Phillips
  • Luke Philp
  • Justin Kirkland
  • Eetu Tuulola
  • Dmitry Zavgorodniy
There’s little incentive for the Flames to sign Francis and use up the first year of his entry-level deal if he’s not going to get a ton of developmental reps. Given the situation, he might be better off going back to junior and playing a big role.

He’s probably headed back to a Memorial Cup host team

Francis is property of the QMJHL’s Saint John Sea Dogs, where he played the latter part of last season. The Sea Dogs are going to host the Memorial Cup tournament in June. So if Francis goes back to junior, he’ll be part of a very, very good junior team that will give him game reps, and lots of them, into June.
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They don’t need to sign him until June 1

The Flames tendered the required “bonafide offer” – basically a token minimal contract offer required to retain a player’s draft rights – to Francis before June 1, 2021, so they retain his rights until June 1, 2022. Given this timeframe, and that he’s probably headed back to junior to play a lengthy season for Saint John, there’s absolutely zero incentive to sign him right away.
Long story short: the Flames aren’t avoiding signing Francis because they think he’s bad at hockey. Quite the opposite, they seem to be very pleased with his progress. But due to his age and some CBA quirks, there’s really no incentive for them to put pen to paper with him until March.